I love stations, but I know that getting a class used to station work can be a challenge. In the ideal world, the first time a class did a station activity it would go smoothly and everyone would be pleased, but in reality, just like any other new classroom activity, stations take time for students to figure-out, and it takes time for me to decide how to best manage them with any particular class. Here are some of the things that I do to manage stations:
1) Spot check/spot grade at random. I will grade or check students' station work. It is either entered in the grade book as participation or homework. If I have small classes, I will spot check a few questions from every student. If I have a large class, I will check the work of one of the group members that I select at random. Now to me the key is selecting the students' work you will grade because otherwise students who are bright, but less inclined to work with others, will show you their work for the group and nobody else will do anything.
2) Expect to have to re-explain the directions the first few times you do station work. If you have upper level students, it's ok to tell them to figure it out and travel around, but with the lower levels 7-9 a lot of time might be invested in explaining the stations again (and again :) ).
3) Plan to run stations for two days. Even if you have five ten minute stations and a fifty minute class, it is likely that when first starting stations, students will only participate in three of them due to needing new directions, traveling slowly, etc. That's ok! I find the second day of stations usually goes more smoothly, and then I have time to review answers as a class.
4) If I am running stations for two days, and I anticipate having some free time, I will encourage students' to revisit a station they found challenging, check their answers, or tidy-up their work.
What do you do to keep stations running smoothly?